All books, films, novels and games have one thing in common, and that is that they all have at least one protagonist. Most own 2 or more, some even a cast of thousands. Sometimes even you are the main character. Regardless of who the characters are, books, movies and the rest of the world would be lifeless and boring without them. So you might be wondering, where do they actually come from? We’ll show you where and how you can design your own.
It doesn’t matter whether you open the “curtain” on the computer screen or on paper, your character has to exist somewhere, even if it’s in apparent nothingness. She could live in an apartment in Paris or in a parking lot in Poughkeepsie. Not only does this set the stage for your character, it also helps define him or her.
Where, who, what, when and how… education, school, career, workplace, purpose, conflict, predicament, opportunity, alternatives/actions (benefits and consequences), health, sexuality, mindset, stage of life, danger, triumph/defeat, evolution/decay, death,… When you get to the point where you want to design a character, chances are you already have at least one plot/story idea in mind. If you want to create an impactful, dramatic story like Lord of the Rings, then you need an entire world of characters – some good, some evil, some male, some female…even some that are neither good nor evil and neither are male nor female. If you want to create a very intimate story, you may not need more than a single character.
Although a little unusual at first glance, not every character in a story has to be alive. For example, in the novel Lord of the Rings, the malevolent Mount Caradhras acts as a character. In Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, a marlin is one of the main characters.
The type of character you create will of course depend on the story, but by starting with more general criteria, you can gradually refine your character further to define it. Similar to a sculptor removing the superfluous marble, thereby revealing the statue hidden within. Appropriate criteria include culture and individual character traits (common man or hero, bully, superhero or ogre) Do you want to design a protagonist (hero) or antagonist (villain). You may also need a secondary character such as a sidekick, best friend, romantic seductive, sidekick, or significant other. Keep in mind that sometimes the character you see as the protagonist – the good guy – is sometimes portrayed as the antagonist. For example Kong in King Kong. You may also need anti-heroes, like Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider; compassionate “villains” such as Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men; wacky guys like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean; a femme fatale (an irresistible woman who elevates her man, causes him trouble, or puts him in danger) like Jessica Rabbit in Who’s Cheating on Roger Rabbit; insidious friends like Iago in Othello or Petyr Baelish in Game of Thrones; or maybe a con man like Smeagol in Lord of the Rings. Each of them started out as an archetype, and more traits were added to them throughout history.
Once you’ve established a character’s skeleton, you can add traits and traits, as well as remove things that your character isn’t. With this you slowly reveal the statue hidden in the marble. Ask yourself what feelings you want the character to evoke in your audience: love, pity, disgust, sympathy—or nothing at all. Draw your character based on your desired result. Determine if you want the character to be male or female. This sets the general point of view of the character, hints at traits based on the skeleton, and may even introduce conflict for your character and story when considering society’s prejudices, fair or not. For example, an arrogant man is perceived differently than an arrogant woman. (Which further defines both characters.) Age matters. Older characters are generally considered wiser, but age is important for other reasons as well. A young villain is usually portrayed as a black sheep or simply insane. With an older villain, all of this can also play a role, but they can also have been brought into their situation by the circumstances of their lives – adding depth to the character. Likewise, a young, idealistic hero evokes different emotions than a world-weary veteran just doing the right thing. Accordingly, the reactions are different when the story ends for one of them. Sometimes that can be contradictory; Don Quixote was a cranky old man who spent his life in a room reading novels about knights and was pathetically naive. Still, it was this naivety that drove him to seek adventure and love, and indulge in fantastical fantasies about his surroundings when reality didn’t live up to his expectations.
In a horror story, the protagonist may just want to survive, such as Ripley in Alien. In a romance, the antagonist’s intention might be to divert the hero from his “true love”, such as Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. The way your character deals with the unavoidable obstacles that stand between them and their goals reveals their traits very clearly. In complex stories, these plots can repeatedly intersect as the motivations and achievements of some characters conflict with others, creating more action and twists and increasing the stakes.
To really flesh out a character, you need to give them a personality that transcends the story itself. Some parts of the personality may never appear directly in the story, but they help to understand the character’s choices. Make a list of likes and dislikes and make sure both sides are balanced. So there should not be 10 likes as opposed to a dislike or vice versa. Even the most quirky character likes something, even if it’s just the reflection. A character’s attitude is often based on their personality traits, which can make their actions unexpected and change the audience’s impression of that character. For example, a freedom-loving character will dislike authority; If the character loves delicious cakes or flashy cars, then they’re unlikely to respect frugality or self-restraint. When your character seems merciless but unexpectedly rescues a helpless child from a burning building, audiences are forced to reconsider the character from scratch.
Good habits, bad habits, or just things your character can’t stop doing without iron discipline or therapy. It can be as small as biting your nails (which would indicate a worried person) or something serious like drug addiction (someone trying to avoid their responsibilities and looking for a way out) or a death wish (hopeless and desperate). The more of those little quirks and traits you give your character, the more “alive” they appear in the eyes of the audience.
Determine external characteristics, e.g. where she lives, what she looks like and whether or not she has pets, etc. Does your character live in an apartment in a well-maintained neighborhood (wealth) or in a ramshackle hovel in a bad part of town (tough life) ? This allows you to learn more about the story and life of the character.
This gives you a much more believable and realistic character and further develops your character’s archetype. The strength/weakness of a famous hero is always closely related to loyalty/loyalty.
Watch people in the mall or on the subway. You can find inspiration for your characters everywhere. Notice physical features—the shape of the nose, jaw, ears, body, how well the clothes fit, or how they move. If you’re looking at looks, describe for yourself the details that you find attractive and try to apply that to your characters. If you see someone who looks scary, acknowledge why that person scares you, even if the reasons are totally irrational or not politically correct. Use this information as inspiration for your characters.
By connecting your character’s traits to our perception of objects, you can make them more believable and it can be useful as a foreshadowing of future moods and actions. For example A rose blooms only briefly, but people adore it. A snake is moody and can attack without warning. Stone buildings are very solid and resistant to change. Thunderstorms are violent but herald a surge in fertility. A sharp sword always poses a danger to whoever wields it
First, keep in mind all the things you’ve thought about and set for your character. Get a recording device – most phones and laptops have one – and conduct an interview with yourself, or better yet, have a friend conduct the interview with you while you put yourself in the character’s shoes. Write it down and go through it in your mind. You can learn things about your character that you didn’t know and develop the character’s personality.
One way to decide where you want to go with a character is to experiment with alternative ideas to see which ones advance your story in the way you prefer. Try to feel your character and put yourself in their shoes. Sometimes you create the best characters from your own ideals, character, and strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of family members and friends/enemies.
Don’t forget: Don’t reveal everything about your character! Unless she’s unlikely to have a secret, you should let her seem a little mysterious. Give the reader something to read between the lines. Just be careful not to make it too mysterious. The type of character you’re designing will determine what the tension curve will be like. If the main character is very closely connected to their environment, the story will start slowly and the character tends to blend in with the environment and with the group of other characters.
However, if there is a stark contrast, a dramatic conflict is revealed early on and you develop the story from that point. Physical features are of less importance for a believable character. Remember: this process is intended to create a character that more or less resembles a real person. If necessary, you can add or remove steps to create your desired character. When other people tell you interesting stories, listen! It doesn’t matter if it’s a true story or a fictional one. Because who knows, you might get inspiration for the perfect figure from the daughter of your dad’s ex-girlfriend who killed her abusive husband. Observe the people around you; your Uncle Bob or your Aunt Jane could be in your next story. Or mix them up and design an Uncle Jane. It’s okay if you start out with a simple character and add more complex traits later. You don’t have to design an extremely complex character straight away. While it’s not strictly necessary to complete the steps in this order, you may find it much easier to develop the character’s personality before dealing with their appearance.